Mahler
Symphony No.6 in A minor

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Bernard Haitink
A ’hot ticket’ indeed as the queue for ’returns’ showed. It’s been nearly twenty years since Haitink and the RCO appeared together in London. This great partnership sounded great once more – truly distinctive through the total lack of artifice; the lean, acutely balanced sound a pleasure in itself. The RCO’s superb execution made the few stitches dropped all the more noticeable; the woodwinds’ contribution was exceptional.
Haitink’s Mahler credentials – and those of the Orchestra of course – need no debating: both are steeped in the music. Yet, for all Haitink’s devotion, breadth of design and care with Mahler’s ’small print’, there was something missing – essentially the final degree of temperament; something a little more graphic is surely needed in music that is more than a symphony.
Haitink seemed to eschew any sort of programme – no suggestion of an embattled "hero", one who would be felled in the final chapter; the symphony’s ’Tragic’ epithet not entirely applicable here. Not that this should really matter – music is music after all – but perhaps Haitink was just a little too objective.
Musically, then, this was magnificent, though the opening movement was, by a hairsbreadth, too quick, not burdened enough. Equally, the epic finale, once under way after an especially pregnant-with-anticipation introduction, was moved along too much to gather a sense of determination, which made the ultimate ’defeat’ less shocking. The hammer-blows had a visual impact; the more important aural delivery was loud but not resonant enough.
The scherzo (here second: Haitink went with Mahler’s published thoughts on the middle movements’ order and ’passed’ on the third, ’superstitious’ hammer-blow) seemed initially too inflexible; long-term, Haitink was revealing of how this movement’s episodes become shorter and more diverse as it progresses. Best of all was the slow movement, a ’moderate andante’ indeed, radiantly played, its ecstatic climax a model of unhurried and focussed release.
A shame that an idiot shouted ’bravo’ as Haitink was emerging from the music, baton still aloft, to destroy those precious seconds of post-performance reflection. Such an intrusion was out of place with the integrity displayed on the platform.

  • The RCO returns to the RFH on Sunday, 10 March, at 3.30pm. Riccardo Chailly conducts Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No.1, with Vadim Repin, and music by Tristan Keuris and Prokofiev (Romeo and Juliet)

 

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